U.S. congressman Colin Allred, of Dallas, and state senator Roland Gutierrez, of San Antonio, two Democrats running to unseat Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate, have largely avoided sparring with each other—opting to focus their ire on Cruz. But for the first time this election season, the two—along with state representative Carl Sherman, of DeSoto, just south of Dallas—will share a stage at the AFL-CIO Democratic primary debate to make the case for their competing visions on how to best represent Texas in an often gridlocked federal arena.
While this isn’t the only Senate primary debate that will take place between now and March 5, Sunday’s debate is the only one that’ll feature both leading candidates. Allred, a fund-raising juggernaut who has placed first in every primary poll of the race and has said he’s focused on beating Cruz, is, in some respects, treating the race as if it’s already in the bag. Indeed, recent polls of Democratic primary voters all put him ahead of Gutierrez, but he’s far short of reaching the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. So far, polls also seem to indicate that Sherman has little chance of winning (only 2 percent of respondents said they planned to back Sherman in a December poll of the race). Allred’s campaign said that this is the only debate he’ll participate in, while Gutierrez will take the stage at least four more times. The debate will be live streamed on the Texas AFL-CIO Facebook and X feeds.
The 75-minute debate, will begin with a short set of labor-related questions before moderators Bob Garrett, of the Dallas Morning News, and Jessica Montoya Coggins, of the Texas Signal, a progressive media company, broach broader topics for each candidate to tackle. All three Democrats will make opening and closing statements.
Here are the questions that Texas Monthly would like to see the Democrats asked.
For Allred, Gutierrez, and Sherman: You’ve either voted for or voiced support for legislation to ensure the national right to abortion. But a bill created for that purpose, the Women’s Health Protection Act, died in the Senate after passing the House. How do you plan to implement legislation codifying abortion rights that could pass both chambers?
On the Border and Immigration
For Allred: You recently joined Republicans—and a handful of U.S. House Democrats—in supporting a resolution that said President Biden’s “open-borders policies” have created a “national security and public safety crisis along the southwest border.” What specific Biden-era policies are you referencing?
For Allred: What immigration policies would you support that are different from Biden’s, and why would your policies be more effective? Are there ways former president Donald Trump’s border policies were working better?
For Gutierrez: You issued a statement criticizing Congressman Allred’s vote on the GOP-backed resolution, but it’s been well documented that many communities along the U.S.-Mexico border are struggling to deal with large numbers of undocumented migrants. How do you address the concerns of the growing number of border-area residents who are switching their party allegiance because they feel Democrats aren’t listening to them on this issue?
For Sherman: In late January, you posted on X that you “understand the urgent need for practical solutions” along the U.S.-Mexico border. Do you support the resolution Congressman Allred signed? Specifically, what solutions would you want to enact?
On Foreign Policy
For Allred: The Texas Democratic Party’s executive committee unanimously passed a resolution supporting a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War—a position applauded by Gutierrez. However, you’ve said that you don’t support a ceasefire, calling the conflict “a war of choice by Hamas.” Do you make any distinction between Hamas and the millions of civilians living in Gaza and under constant bombardment? If so, what additional measures should the U.S. insist that Israel take to reduce civilian casualties?
For Sherman: Do you support calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war? Why or why not?
For Allred: You’ve credited U.S. senator John Cornyn for his work advancing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and have said that any future gun-safety legislation needs to be crafted in a way that can pass in a divided Senate. What legislation do you have in mind?
For Gutierrez: You’ve expressed your support for a limited assault weapon ban, among other gun-violence prevention policies. Recent polls show that majorities of Texans in both parties support incremental gun-safety measures, such as raising the legal age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. How do you respond to Texans, including Democrats, who say your gun restrictions would go too far?
For Gutierrez: After the school shootings in Uvalde, in the district that you represent, you criticized a bipartisan gun law—spearheaded by Cornyn—as lacking provisions that would’ve prevented the massacre. Assuming the Senate remains closely divided, as the polls predict, what makes you think you could work with Republican members of Congress to pass legislation more far-reaching than Cornyn’s?
For Gutierrez: You’ve said that preventing gun violence is one of your top reasons for running. But according to a December poll by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, only 9 percent of Democrats said gun violence was the biggest problem facing Texas. More voters prioritized political corruption and leadership (20 percent) and inflation (11 percent). Do you worry that running primarily on a gun control platform will alienate more voters than it will energize?
On Polarization and Representing Texans
For Allred and Gutierrez: Polls show that President Biden’s approval rating in Texas is underwater, but you’ve both expressed support for him. Why do you think he’s the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump? How do you respond to concerns from voters regarding his age?
For Allred: On the campaign trail, you’ve taken positions—for example, on Gaza and immigration—that have angered some of the state’s most liberal voters, who are disproportionately influential in Democratic primaries. Do you think Democratic candidates need to stand up to the party’s liberal wing if they hope to break that party’s thirty years of failure in statewide elections?
For Gutierrez: You’ve implied that bipartisanship is a fantasy. Since winning a general election in Texas requires the support of Democratic voters and some independents and Republicans, how do you plan to win over such voters if you win the primary?
For Gutierrez and Sherman: You’ve previously been elected to local offices, as a member of the San Antonio City Council and the mayor of DeSoto, respectively. Since then, both of you have primarily occupied roles in the minority party in the Texas Legislature. Why do you think you’re best equipped to represent all of Texas in the U.S Senate?
On the Campaign
For Allred: How do you respond to criticism that you’re not present in Texas as much as Gutierrez while campaigning to represent the state? How are you balancing performing your duties as a congressman with getting to know voters statewide?
For Allred: Why are you only participating in one primary debate between now and March 5? Do you feel that debating is not one of your strengths?
For Allred: Even with the impressive sums of money you’re raising in this race, polls show that you’re not anywhere near the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Why do you think your campaign has struggled to top 30 percent in the polls? And how would your campaign strategy change if you’re forced into a runoff?
For Gutierrez and Sherman: You’re both lagging behind Congressman Allred in fund-raising—yet, if you win the primary, you would go head-to-head with Ted Cruz, who has millions in his campaign coffers and is known to almost all Texas voters, as you are not. How do you plan to compete?